Two controversial winery development decisions appealed
Two controversial decisions in an increasingly contentious battle over winery development in Sonoma County are being appealed, placing the issue squarely before the Board of Supervisors.
In Dry Creek Valley, a group of neighbors is contesting the Board of Zoning Adjustments’ decision to allow Ken and Diane Wilson to build a 25,000-case winery northwest of Healdsburg.
The zoning board on April 16 approved the Wilsons’ permit to construct the new Hale Winery on their 40-acre vineyard, but a nearby resident submitted an appeal to the Board of Supervisors on Monday - the last day to file. Neighbors are taking issue with the number of events permitted, the analysis of potential traffic impacts from the winery, and the study gauging impacts of music and construction noise on neighbors.
“Dry Creek Road used to be a hidden gem, but it’s becoming a lot more popular than it was years ago - cars are screaming up and down there all the time,” said Andrew Dieden, who filed the appeal and lives on the thoroughfare that winds through the heart of Dry Creek Valley. “The increased traffic poses a potential safety threat.”
Ken Wilson said he was surprised to learn about the appeal late Monday. He reasserted the need for special events at his new winery and said he wouldn’t draw more traffic to the area during existing wine industry gatherings such as barrel tasting weekend.
“We just accept the traffic that’s already there. We don’t create it,” Wilson said. “And other events are very important to my bottom line - they do bring a lot of people to the area, and often times they are here with their checkbooks ready.”
The appeal against the Wilsons’ Hale Winery comes amid a pronounced backlash from rural residents - particularly in northern Sonoma County - who complain that the impacts of new and existing winery developments on their neighborhoods detract from the county’s rural character, and that the increased traffic from popular winery events threatens other motorists and cyclists in the area.
Winery owners also are pushing back. David DiLoreto, an owner of Hop Kiln Winery, an existing winery that is expanding on 79 acres on Westside Road in the Russian River Valley, filed an appeal earlier this month of the zoning board’s April 2 decision to restrict events to 12 total per year - half of what he sought - including eight industrywide events and four special gatherings.
DiLoreto did not return calls for comment, but his representatives said restricting special events to four per year was too harsh, and not in line with other wineries on Westside Road. DiLoreto originally wanted 19 special events, but settled on 16 after hearing worries voiced by his neighbors.
“We took their concerns seriously; we want to be good neighbors,” said Jean Kapolchok, a land-use consultant who represents DiLoreto. “We respected what the neighbors had to say, but we feel that only allowing four (events) is overly restrictive.”
Kapolchok said when DiLoreto and other investors formed Westside Grapes, a Seattle-based limited liability company, to purchase Hop Kiln Winery in 2004, they were under the impression that they were allowed to host whatever kind of events they desired.
“He believed he was purchasing the right to have events,” Kapolchok said. “We were an existing facility, and part of the existing environmental fabric.”
Hop Kiln owners also are protesting requirements that all outdoor events end at 5 p.m., and rules imposed by the zoning board requiring the new 15,550-square-foot wine production facility to be completely enclosed.
Winery application hearings are becoming increasingly controversial, and residents who oppose new developments more vocal. At least four of the 15 winery permit appeals filed since 2010 have come forth in the past seven months, according to county records. They include the Hop Kiln and Hale Winery appeals, as well as a pending appeal by owners of Bella Vineyards on West Dry Creek Road. An appeal by a group of neighbors against the new Belden Barns Winery on Sonoma Mountain Road went in the favor of the winery’s owners last fall.
The issues have grown more heated since the Bella decision. The zoning board took unprecedented action last October, voting to halt all events at the winery, including tastings in the popular hillside cave.
Now, county officials are grappling with neighborhood concerns and other issues surrounding wineries that double as event centers, including owners hosting unauthorized events, crowded weekend gatherings that draw large amounts of traffic to narrow country roads, and how to manage impacts on the environment.
Tennis Wick, director of the Permit and Resource Management Department, is convening a stakeholder group to take up these issues and draft policy recommendations for the Board of Supervisors later this year.
Wine industry groups and residents say the effort is overdue.
“What the industry wants with events is clarity and consistency,” said Carolyn Stark, executive director of Sonoma County Vintners, an industry group. “Wineries are also neighbors, and we all want the same thing - to protect the quality of life we enjoy here in Sonoma County.”
Meanwhile, supervisors are going to weigh in on the issues when they take up the trio of appeals. The actions are expected to come before the full board separately, some as soon as this summer.
You can reach Staff Writer Angela Hart at 526-8503 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @ahartreports.